South Korea’s Justice Ministry is looking at revising laws to make it easier to take down online content that intentionally spreads false information. Harsher measures are also taking place with the application of existing criminal rulings, such as defamation law that carries penalties of up to seven years in prison.
Just last week, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki ordered state prosecutors to go after those spreading ‘false manipulated informations’ and carry out criminal investigations even if no complaint has been made.
The National Police Academy is currently looking into 16 false stories that have been spread online. One of these claims that Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon paid tribute to North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in his recent trip to Vietnam.
YouTube has become a regular target in the crackdowns due to an abundance of right-wing conservatives who paint the president to be a North Korean sympathizer. Much to the Democratic Party’s displeasure, tech giant Google recently refused its demands to take down a hundred videos on the popular streaming site.
The Justice Ministry has said that the clampdowns won’t affect ‘expression of different opinions’ or ‘false reports caused by mistakes’, and will only target content that causes ‘social distrust’ and weakens ‘democratic discourse’ by ‘intentionally manipulating objective facts’.
Legal experts have criticized this saying that there is no way to objectively discern the difference between what is maliciously false and what is a ‘mistake’.
The National Union of Media Workers also said in a statement: “It’s not appropriate for the government to intervene and define what fake news is. This will almost certainly create suspicions that decisions will be based on the government’s taste.”
South Korea has a history tainted by military dictatorships that heavily censored the news and executed those who spoke out against them, which will likely be fresh in the mind for those criticizing the government’s decision.
Civil liberty advocates are comparing liberal President Moon Jae-in’s actions to those of his conservative predecessors who used the same defamation law to suppress critics. While he’s not manipulating traditional media as former rulers did, the censorship measures are likely to affect everyday internet users.